A Biography of Thomas Layne Zumwalt


Thomas Layne Zumwalt


Thomas Zumwalt


Thomas Layne Zumwalt, age 66, died on Saturday, March 7, 2009, following a courageous battle with lymphoma. A seventh-generation Texan, Tom was born in Sugar Land, Texas on April 13, 1942, to Dorothy Maye White and John L. Zumwalt. He grew up in Fort Bend, County, Texas and the Mississippi Delta. His late mother frequently described him as a devoted son.

He spent the war years (WWII) with his mother's family in Richmond, Texas while his father was serving in the U.S. Army. His maternal grandfather, Charles T. White (Daddy Charlie), was highly influential in Tom's formation. After the war, Tom's father left the Service and joined the White family's rice farming business in Richmond, Texas. One of Tom's childhood friends from the Mississippi Delta was Patricia Sheldon (now of Houston), who thought of Tom's mother Dorothy as a second mother. When Tom was about nine years old, his parents purchased a large plantation in Mississippi (miles from anywhere) and moved there to farm the fertile soil of the Delta. Tom returned every summer to Richmond to spend time with his grandparents -- back when it was safe for kids to ride the Greyhound bus alone. While living in Greenville, Mississippi, Tom was active in many organizations, including the Delta Bachelors Club, the Sons of the American Revolution , Boys' State (a summer leadership and citizenship program), and 4-H. He raised and showed champion Black Angus heifers. Greenville was known for producing more prize-winning authors than any other town, and Tom often remarked that this undoubtedly had much to do with the rich source material found in the social fabric of Greenville.

Tom graduated from a preparatory school at historic Jefferson College (founded 1802) in Washington, Mississippi, in 1960, and from Auburn University in 1965 with a five-year professional degree in architecture. He was hand-picked for the architecture program by Paul Rudolph, a well-known alumnus of the program, in the first year that Auburn acquired its university status and changed its name from Alabama Polytechnic Institute to Auburn University. (Rudolph had also studied with Walter Gropius at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and was chairman of the Yale Department of Architecture from 1958 to 1965.) Tom went to Europe for a year upon graduation (in 1965) to travel, liked it and decided to stay and work there. He took a job with the Adjutant General, based in Frankfurt-Roedelheim, Germany, where he worked for seven years developing classified documents.

While working for the Adjutant General, he met several of his life-long friends. He became good friends with one of his colleagues and mentors, John Pennino, and John's wife Betty, and traveled extensively with them. Another good friend that he met in Germany was Jo Shaw, now Dr. Jo Shaw Kiley of San Antonio. In later years, when both John Pennino and Tom's mother Dorothy had been widowed, John and Dorothy married. Tom also took advantage of the many cultural opportunities in Europe, attending the opera frequently. Several of Tom's friends were internationally-known musicians so he traveled to attend their concerts. Tom also graduated from the Cordon Bleu school of cooking in Paris, and was known among his friends as an excellent cook. He enjoyed skiing and sledding in Austria; his friend Jo Shaw Kiley remembers one misadventure when he rode an errant lunge through the kitchen window of a luxury hotel. The last thing I saw, he said, was a room full of Austrian chefs holding large knives and skewers.

After his time with the Adjutant General, Tom turned his interests back to architecture and design, and went to work for the Army Corps of Engineers to oversee the interior design of all U.S. facilities in Europe. Due to a new Status of Forces bill, a great deal of work was being done in that period (the early 1970s). His team renovated buildings in Europe from as early as the Middle Ages and built modern facilities. The head of Army Corps of Engineers met Tom while in Germany, and made Tom an offer to handle many of the major construction projects in Saudi Arabia. The infrastructure project in Saudi Arabia was one of the largest budgets ever managed by the U.S. governments (and was paid for by the Saudi government). Tom lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for seven or eight years, including three years at a private company in Jeddah. Tom had a long and successful career in interior design, and was known for his understanding of the interior design and exterior design of a building and how they worked together.

Eventually Tom returned to the United States and worked as a private consultant. The Sverdrup Company, at the time one of the largest architectural and engineering firms in the world, was based in Rosslyn, Virginia. Sverdrup hired him to work on the design of a large number of U.S. embassies. After the bombing of the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, the Inman Commission recommended the replacement and fortification of embassies all over the world. Sverdrup was still family-owned when Tom worked there. The company had the contract for the new embassies as part of the Embassy Task Group. His work on the embassies took him to Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America and Central America. Tom noted that he was one of the few people to have spent a great deal of time in the Yemen. He also traveled down the Nile from Alexandria to Khartoum twice - by local boat or dhow, and came back up by horseback and camel. Following his work with Sverdrup, Tom formed a design partnership for several years with architect Dwight Matthews in Virginia. While living in Virginia, Tom enjoyed riding to hounds. He also became close to the Matthews family. Dwight, his wife Jennifer, and their children Dorian and Whitney have remained friends for life.

Tom retired in the early 1990s and moved back to San Antonio, when his friend and stepfather, John Pennino, became ill. He stayed when his mother was widowed and cared for her until her death in 2008. Although near the end of her life his mother used a walker and was losing her eyesight, Tom always ensured that she was beautifully turned out and that she had an active social life. While in San Antonio Tom had many friends, and was a fixture on the Starbucks patio, meeting a group every morning for coffee. He was popular with his neighbors and hosted a Friday afternoon neighborhood happy hour for years. All his friends admired his kindness and patience with his mother. A friend once described him as a true Christian gentleman.

Tom was a member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and served as president of the William Barrett Travis Chapter Number 7 for two years. Through the SRT, he became friends with Tom Jackson, also an officer of the chapter. Tom was also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; St. Mark's Episcopal Church; and served on the Board of Directors of San Antonio Botanical Society.

He is survived by his cousins, Linda Kay Gubbels and her husband Pat of Rosenberg, Texas, and Janet Lee Enax; his aunts Arlene Davis and Mary Kathryn White, also of Fort Bend County; his stepfather's daughter, Gail Consaul and her husband, Parker III, of Fort Worth; the Matthews family, Dwight, Jennifer, Whitney and Dorian, of Virginia. A memorial service will be held at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Friday, March 13, at 3:00 pm. Tom's ashes will be interred near those of his family at the Morton Cemetery in Richmond, Texas. In lieu of flowers, please make gifts to St. Mark's Music Fund, 315 E. Pecan Street, San Antonio, TX 78205, or to the William Barrett Travis Chapter Number 7 of the Sons of the Republic of Texas.




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Web Page Created:

14 March 2009


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14 March 2009